House of Commons Hansard #208 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was witnesses.

Topics

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act
Private Members' Business

February 11th, 2013 / 11:05 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

moved that Bill C-380, an act to amend the Fish Inspection Act and the Fisheries Act (importation of shark fins), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to begin debate on second reading of Bill C-380, which would amend the Fish Inspection Act by legally banning the importation of shark fins, not attached to the rest of the shark, to Canada. It would also amend the Fisheries Act by enshrining in legislation Canada's current prohibition on shark finning.

My bill seeks to address a conservation crisis that is happening in oceans around the world. Right now, we are witnessing the rapid decline of sharks due to the demand for their fins. Up to 73 million sharks are being killed each year, primarily for their fins. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, over one-third of all shark species are currently threatened with extinction.

Sharks are being finned. The practice of finning is brutal. If I could show an image of a shark getting its fins cut off before being dumped back into the ocean, people would be horrified. Let me describe how sharks are caught and killed. Long lines, often 85 kilometres or so long, are placed in the ocean. These lines have multiple hooks, which indiscriminately catch sea creatures such as sharks, turtles, swordfish, tuna and other big fish. Sharks are hauled into the fishing vessel. Some are dead, but many are still alive. Once they are in the boat, the fins are cut off the shark and its body is dumped back into the ocean. It is left to die a slow and painful death as it sinks helplessly to the bottom of the ocean.

This is not only unethical, but it is a terribly wasteful practice. Scientists estimate that in just a few short decades some regional shark populations will have declined by over 95%. Experts also predict that if current trends continue, up to 20 shark species could become functionally extinct by 2017. That is only four years from now.

Sharks have long life cycles and are slow to reproduce. They predate dinosaurs. They are apex predators and play a critical role in maintaining the health and balance of our ocean ecosystems. For these reasons, sharks cannot sustain the intense fishing practices they are under. Humans are causing irrevocable harm to our marine ecosystems by continuing to fish sharks into extinction. The consequences of not addressing this problem will significantly and permanently harm the health of our oceans. As parliamentarians, we must consider how Canada can play a positive role in this global conservation crisis.

I propose that Canada adopt an importation ban on shark fins, as it is a practical and effective way for Canada to help curtail the illegal global shark fin trade. The primary reason for the rapid decline of sharks in our oceans is the demand for their fins. Unfortunately, shark finning has become a prevalent practice in various parts of the world. While some countries have banned shark finning, global demand for shark fin continues to drive illegal, unreported and unregulated shark fisheries. On average, shark fins sell for $400 per kilogram, while shark meat is worth about 50¢ a kilogram. Consequently, a highly profitable, underground shark fin market has emerged, which exploits threatened and endangered shark species to maximize profits. Organized crime is very much involved with the sale of shark fin around the world.

Canada imports, on average, just over 100 tonnes of shark fin a year. Some consumers of shark fin soup falsely believe only shark fins from properly regulated and well-managed fisheries are allowed into the country. This is simply not the case. The fact is that there is no quick and easy way to verify whether imported shark fins came from a sustainable or humane shark fishery. In fact, most do not. It has been proven that fins of threatened and endangered sharks are being sold in Canada today.

Last year, CTV News and the Vancouver Animal Defense League purchased dried shark fins from various shops in the Lower Mainland and had the DNA tested by a lab at the University of Guelph. Of the 59 samples tested, it was determined that 76% of those fins came from sharks listed as threatened or endangered by the IUCN. In fact, 10% of the samples came from scalloped hammerhead sharks, which the IUCN lists as endangered. These hammerheads are also listed under appendix 3 of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This is the international treaty intended to protect species from overexploitation.

As a member of CITES, Canada is asked to assist in controlling the trade of these sharks, but it is clear that we are not living up to our commitment. Despite being a signatory to CITES, Canada is contributing to the global trade of illegal shark fins by continuing to import fins indiscriminately. This is a black eye on our reputation as a world leader in ocean conservation and stewardship.

It is also important to note that existing international regulations and protocols have not demonstrated that they can swiftly respond to the urgent threats facing overexploited shark populations. Proposals to strengthen finning bans and to add more shark species to endangered species lists are failing to gain consensus due to member countries' competing self-interests. Even Canada has been criticized for being the only country to oppose listing porbeagle sharks as endangered at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

It is clear that current regulations are not enough to protect sharks from being fished to extinction for their fins. The best way to put an end to this horrific practice is to legislate a ban on the importation of shark fins to Canada. By adopting an import ban, Canada would be joining a worldwide conservation movement to protect sharks. Other countries with shark fin bans include the Bahamas, Chile, Ecuador, Fiji and Guam, as well as the U.S. states of California, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Washington.

Across Asia, there are numerous examples of the growing movement to protect sharks. The Chinese government recently announced it would stop serving shark fin soup at official banquets. Prestigious restaurants and hotels across Asia have removed shark fin soup from their menus, including major high-end hotel chains such as Peninsula, Shangri-La, the Marriott and the Sheraton. Cathay Pacific Airways halted its role in the shark fin trade when it decided to stop transporting shipments of shark fin and other shark products.

In Canada, efforts to protect sharks have gained significant momentum over the past few years. Growing numbers of Chinese restaurants have taken sharp fin soup off their menus, including Floata Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver, one of the largest Chinese restaurants in the country. However, some restaurant owners, while recognizing the harmful impact of shark fin soup, feel that if they take it off their menus their customers will take their business elsewhere. This is the case for Veronica Kwan, owner of Kam Fung Chinese Restaurant in Brossard, Quebec. She wrote to members of Parliament urging them to support Bill C-380. She writes:

A ban on the import of shark fins to Canada would level the playing field for business owners such as myself who want to do what it is ethically and ecologically responsible while still remaining commercially competitive.

Increased awareness and action to protect sharks is due in part to grassroots organizations such as Shark Truth, which is fostering change through positive campaigns such as its Happy Hearts Love Sharks wedding contest, which encourages couples to go fin free at wedding banquets. Organizations such as the Humane Society International-Canada, WildAid Canada and United Conservationists have also raised national awareness of the urgent need to protect sharks.

I must also highlight the work of Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart, whose 2007 film, Sharkwater, opened the eyes of millions of people to the exploitation of sharks through finning and the rampant corruption present in the shark fin trade. Through stunning original footage, Stewart documents how even sharks in marine reserves are targeted by poachers. His film has reached large audiences in Canada and around the world and is in part responsible for increased awareness of the realities of shark finning.

Numerous municipalities in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have responded to the growing public awareness of threats to sharks by adopting bans on shark fin, and many more cities across the country are considering similar bans. Last year the Union of British Columbia Municipalities passed a near unanimous resolution calling on the federal government to ban the import of shark fins to Canada. Cities across Canada are taking action to protect sharks and they are calling on the federal government to do the same.

Before drafting my bill, I consulted with Chinese Canadian business associations, restaurant owners and individuals, as well as academics, elected representatives from all levels of government, environmental organizations and the wider public. I had polling done in English, Chinese, Cantonese and Mandarin in British Columbia, which found that 76% of Chinese-speaking respondents and over 83% of English-speaking respondents support a federal import ban on shark fins.

It is clear that there is widespread support for the federal government to ban the importation of shark fins to Canada. Tens of thousands of Canadians have signed petitions and written to their members of Parliament urging them to support Bill C-380. I have heard from many members that they have received calls and emails, especially in the last few weeks. I want to thank Canadians for writing and contacting their members to let them know how important this issue is.

I have introduced many of these petitions in the House of Commons and I can tell my colleagues that they come from all corners of this country. Children are particularly passionate about shark conservation and I have been amazed by their enthusiasm to create change. In my riding, a class of grade one students and their teacher from Moody Elementary made a great presentation to Port Moody city council in support of a municipal ban on shark fin. They researched the environmental impact of shark finning and were excited to share their learning with the council and the public.

I must say it was quite moving when these young people came into council chambers with their very organized messages and signs. They gave a very compelling presentation and I have never seen members of a council react so quickly. They wanted to pass a ban that night. It took a while in Port Moody, but it became the first municipality in British Columbia to pass a ban on shark fin. That caused a chain reaction with the other municipalities in British Columbia, which is now the province that has the most municipal bans in Canada.

The facts before us today make the case that Canada must take immediate action to address the crisis of rapidly declining shark populations. We are facing the likely extinction of shark species around the globe, largely due to the demand for their highly valued fins. Canada must stop indiscriminately importing fins from endangered and threatened sharks. We must put an end to our role in the illegal global shark fin trade.

I ask all members to support Bill C-380 at second reading so it can be studied further at committee.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission
B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague a bit more about the principle behind his bill. He talked about a conservation crisis and used words such as “rapidly declining shark populations”, “pending extinction”, and so on, though there are many shark populations that are quite healthy. If this is the motivation behind the bill, is he suggesting that for other species that might be facing a conservation crisis, let us say tuna, the same approach should be taken and that Canada should ban the importation of tuna?

Would he then suggest that every other country should follow Canada's example and not allow the importation of tuna, which could negatively affect both our own tuna fishers as well as those who fish for shark within Canadian waters? I wonder if he has thought that through.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the parliamentary secretary raising the issue of tuna. The protection and conservation of tuna is critically important, and I hope that Canada will take action.

My bill is focused specifically on shark conservation. Sharks are being targeted for their fins, not their meat. The meat is, as I mentioned in my speech, about 50 cents a pound. The fins, on the other hand, are valued at up to $400 a pound or a kilogram. The shark fin is what is being targeted here.

As some scientists have predicted, we could lose some species as early as 2017—in other words, in this decade—if we do not take dramatic action. Canada can become a global leader by becoming the first country to ban the importation of sharks and really focusing on the shark fin as the source of the issue, which will help conserve our shark populations.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, a number of my constituents are Chinese Canadians, and they have approached me with concerns about this bill.

Like the hon. member, they are dead opposed to finning, and they are totally opposed to the importation of sharks that are an endangered species. They accept both principles. At the same time, they view an outright ban on shark fin soup as an attack on the Chinese culture. I think there is a way around this.

My question for the hon. member is whether he would entertain amendments to his bill that would allow the use of shark fin soup in Canada, but only on the condition that it is not made with sharks that have been finned or sharks that are endangered and that the importation would be limited to countries that obey international law in these matters.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member raised three issues I could respond to.

In terms of consultation, I consulted with a wide variety of stakeholders, including Chinese business associations. Their concern is that they want a level playing field. They want to see an importation ban. They feel that it is the fair way to go.

I want to clarify that this bill does not impact what is sold in the country. This bill focuses on what is coming into the country. It actually does not address the issue the hon. member was talking about in terms of a ban on shark fin soup. That is more a provincial jurisdiction in terms of sales and trade.

The importation of shark fins, which is really getting at the illegal finning trade, is what this bill focuses on. It will curtail that important demand that exists in the world right now, in which Canada plays a part.

In terms of addressing issues at committee stage and entertaining amendments, I think that is what committee is for. There will be a healthy discussion and debate. I hope all hon. members will consider supporting this bill at second reading so that we can get this bill forwarded to committee for further discussion. Perhaps there are amendments that might need to be made. That discussion will be at committee.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking in response to Bill C-380. It goes without saying that this is a difficult issue.

Our Conservative government is committed to addressing the serious problem of shark finning. We are taking action on a number of fronts to end this deplorable activity. It is very important to note that shark finning has been banned in Canada since the mid-1990s.

The ban applies to Canadian waters and Canadian licensed vessels fishing outside our territorial waters. Canada is one of the first countries to implement a national plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks.

Our government believes that working through regional fisheries management organizations, such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, to ensure strong management and enforcement practices globally, is the most effective way to prevent unsustainable practices such as finning.

We take seriously our legal obligation to prevent the import of products from shark species that are currently listed as endangered and are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

These species are the great white shark, the whale shark and the basking shark.

I will speak specifically about the proposals in the bill that pertain to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's food safety obligations and the proposed changes to the Fish Inspection Act.

Let me begin by reiterating our government's unwaivering commitment to food safety and the role of the CFIA. The CFIA is already exploring what can be done on the importation of shark fins. Shark products for human consumption fall under regulations that address the importation of fish and seafood products. These regulations set standards for quality, safety and identification and are enforced by the CFIA.

The CFIA focuses solely on food safety and quality as well as consumer protection. All licence holders for Canadian shark fisheries and for fisheries where sharks are landed as bycatch are subject to licence conditions that prohibit them from engaging in shark finning. All licensed shark fishing vessels in Canada are subject to 100% monitoring. Non-compliance with a licence condition constitutes an offence under the Fisheries Act, as enforced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

As my hon. colleagues are aware, Bill C-380 proposes to prohibit the importation of shark fins unless authorized by a permit issued by the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The expertise and jurisdiction to make these determinations lie with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which therefore renders the licensing scheme in the bill through the Fish Inspection Act completely unfeasible.

I would first like to analyze this proposal in relation to Canada's existing Fish Inspection Act and then in relation to the new Safe Food for Canadians Act.

The Fish Inspection Act regulates issues related to the quality and safety of fish and seafood intended for human consumption. The importation ban set out in the Fish Inspection Regulations applies only to fish products that pose a risk of harm to human health.

However, there is no evidence that shark fins post a risk to human health.

If CFIA were to restrict the importation of shark fins for any reason other than food safety, it would leave Canada vulnerable to a trade challenge at the WTO. The proposed ban on shark fin imports does not prohibit the legal production and sale of domestic shark fins in Canada; it prohibits imports of shark fins that were legally produced in other countries. It is a protectionist policy, one that is not good for trade. This could pave the way for other countries to impose protectionist policies on Canadian imports with little to no basis. In fact, Canada is currently challenging the EU at the WTO on a similar type of ban on Canadian seal products.

Bill C-380's recommendations go beyond the framework of the existing regulations and the new, forthcoming regulations on food safety.

The bill also comes at a time when Canada's Fish Inspection Act will be repealed as our government's Safe Food for Canadians Act comes into force. The Safe Food for Canadians Act, which received royal assent this past fall, strengthens and modernizes our food safety system to make sure that it continues to provide for safe food for Canadians.

This legislation will provide appropriate measures to ensure that Canadians can continue to have faith in the effective protection provided by the CFIA. The main objective of the new legislative measures on food safety is to strengthen our ability to protect Canada's food supply and the health of Canadians.

The Safe Food for Canadians Act will allow us to achieve that by incorporating the provisions of various acts and regulations, including the Fish Inspection Act, in order to ensure more uniform treatment of food products.

Our government is unable to support the bill. However, it will continue to support responsible, legal shark harvesters and will crack down on those who break the rules.

I appreciate my hon. colleagues' full attention on this matter.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Cardigan, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-380, an act to amend the fish inspection act and the fisheries act (importation of shark fins) sponsored by my hon. colleague, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Bill C-380 is an important bill with very important implications. It would enshrine in legislation Canada's ban against shark finning. Shark finning is a cruel and inhumane practice that I believe the Government of Canada should be doing whatever it can to end on a global basis. Besides cruelty, shark finning is an awful practice for a number of reasons.

Shark fin fisheries are associated with excessive mortality, as the fishing effort is not limited by hold space. Shark finning threatens the sustainability of fisheries. Finning hinders the collection of the catch data needed to monitor population trends and set sustainable catch levels. Overfishing, which may be driven by finning, is widely recognized as the greatest cause of extinction risk to sharks.

The removal of large numbers of top predators may destabilize marine ecosystems.

It was a Liberal government that banned shark finning in Canada back in 1994. It has been enacted through fisheries regulations and management plans since then. Bill C-380 would place it directly under the Fisheries Act. This would be a good step to take and would send a clear and renewed message that Canada would never accept this practice in any shape or form. It would be a strong symbolic gesture of Canada's stance on the issue.

The stocks of some shark species are in bad shape, and some of the problem can be traced to the practice of shark finning by those countries that allow it. Canada should be doing its part to take a strong stand and take effective action against others who participate in this awful practice.

It is the other part of the bill, which I partially support, that gives me some hesitation. This part of the bill would add to the Fish Inspection Act a prohibition against importing shark fins that are not attached to the rest of the shark carcass. It would also allow the minister to import fins used for scientific research related to the survival of shark species.

In 2011, Canada imported over 100 tonnes of shark fin, which were worth $6.3 million. None of these fins were attached to the rest of the carcass at the time of import. Therefore, this bill would essentially ban all shark fin imports to Canadian soil without making a difference as to whether they were obtained through shark finning or through sustainable and proper fishing methods.

About half of the 2011 shark fin imports came from other countries that already ban the practice of shark finning. I wonder what message it sends if we completely ban the import of shark fins and do not note the difference between the countries that ban the practice of shark finning and those that still allow it to take place. I believe that we must make a distinction and send a clear message to those countries that still allow the practice to take place in their shark fisheries.

If we do not make a distinction between which species the fins come from, I would also wonder whether they were from endangered species or from those with stocks that are in good shape. These are important points to make.

As it is currently written, the bill would place a federal ban on imports of a food that is still seen as very valuable and very important by many in the Chinese Canadian community. I do not believe that a complete federal ban on all shark fin imports to this country, whether they were obtained through shark finning or through proper sustainable fishing methods, would send a very good message to those countries.

I believe that we should have the right to choose to eat a culturally important food as long as it is obtained properly from species that are not threatened and that the shark fishing did not involve cruelty.

It is dependent upon us as federal legislators to be very sensitive to the cultural and identity concerns of Canada's many different communities, while still taking a strong stance against the very cruel and inhumane practice of shark finning, which is still practised in countries around the world. Not all shark fisheries involve species that are threatened, and not all shark fishers participate in the cruel practice of shark finning.

This is also an important point to make. We must not put countries that do a good job of regulating their shark fisheries to prevent overfishing and cruelty in the same boat as countries that permit overfishing and shark finning. If we punish only those countries that allow these practices by banning imports from them we would send them a very clear message that this is unacceptable. Perhaps this would be an incentive for those countries to change the way they handle their shark fisheries and perhaps other countries would follow suit.

However, if we also punish those countries that are doing a good job regulating their shark fisheries and preventing cruelty, what message are we sending to them? We would be sending the message that it makes no difference whether they regulate their fisheries and prevent cruelty; that we will treat them the same as countries with unregulated fisheries that allow overfishing to destroy shark stocks and that allow the cruel practice of shark finning. I certainly do not feel that this would be a prudent thing to do.

I would like to explore the bill further in committee and see whether we can make a distinction between where the shark fin comes from and what species it comes from. Some shark fins may very well come from countries that ban shark finning already. The shark may be of a species that is fished sustainably and in an appropriate manner by countries that ban shark finning. The fin may also be separated from the carcass properly once the shark has been landed and brought to the shore of that country. Other shark fins may come from countries that allow shark finning, or from threatened species of shark. These fins are the fins we should focus on banning from importation to Canada.

If Bill C-380 passes as it is currently written, it would make Canada the first country in the world to ban shark fin imports. It is a very important bill and we must look at it closely. I agree completely that shark finning is an awful practice and we need to do more to pressure those countries that engage in this practice to stop it from happening. We must do what we can to make sure shark fins coming into Canada are legally harvested.

I come from an area of the country where fisheries are very important. Having sustainable fisheries is something that is truly important to me and to the many people involved in the fisheries in my riding of Cardigan and in the province of Prince Edward Island. We all agree that a sustainable fishery is something we must have. However, the people involved in the fishery must be able to make a living if they are fishing the proper species of shark and if they are using the proper methods.

We should not punish those people involved in sustainable shark fisheries. We cannot lump them in together with people who fish critically endangered species and those who practise shark finning. I believe if we look at the bill more closely at committee and are able to make some amendments, it would serve this purpose.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start my speech in this new year of the snake by wishing you and all my colleagues a happy year of the snake. Chuc mung nam moi.Xin nian kuai le kung hei fat choi.

I would like to thank my colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam, who introduced this bill. I would also like to thank him for all the groundwork he has done to convince many people of the merit of this bill, which is important to me. I believe we should all support it.

I would like to explain why I am giving my full support to this bill and why it is so important to me. I am a certified scuba diving supervisor and instructor. Unfortunately, since being elected I no longer have the time for it. When I taught the “open water” level to beginners, I talked about the importance of preserving our environment, especially the marine flora.

I also showed them the documentary Sharkwater, which was filmed by a Canadian and, I believe, won 31 international prizes. It is a beautiful film that provides a simple explanation of the problem of shark finning. It also provides insight into the impact of the phenomenon on the shark population and the reason for this fishing practice.

I cannot help but talk about my Asian heritage. I grew up eating shark fin soup. However, things are changing. The new generation supports this bill, and I will talk about this a little later. Things are changing and I believe it is important for parliamentarians to make that change happen.

After going on a dive and returning to the boat, having had the chance to see a real live shark, which is truly a pleasure, everyone on the boat will have a smile.They will talk about how amazing the creature is, how important it is, and how privileged we are to be able to swim with it. A lot of people have seen Jaws, but that is Hollywood. In real life it is a beautiful creature and an important creature because it keeps our ecosystem in equilibrium.

One thing that is really important to point out is that a tremendous number of sharks are being killed just for their fins; I repeat, just for their fins. The people are not eating shark steak. My colleague mentioned the price of fins versus the price of meat. The reason we do not eat shark meat is that a shark is the apex predator and it contains a lot of mercury. I do not hear about a lot of people eating shark steak.

The real problem is that sharks are often finned alive. Why are we doing this, just taking their fins? In my community, in the Chinese and Vietnamese community, it is important to treat guests well. At a wedding, for instance, guests are brought shark fin soup. The soup might taste really good, but it is not because of the shark fins but because of the pork broth or chicken broth, which gives it taste. Shark fin has no taste. It is a cartilage and it has no nutritional value. It is basically just a question of prestige.

My colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam mentioned that he has approached a lot of kids and people in different communities. It is really important for them because there is a difference between the value and the fact that they want the banquet to look good for others. It is not necessary to do that. Even the Chinese government has realized that. A lot of hotel chains have started banning shark fin soup.

If we think about it, it is not really a matter of culture.

I heard government members say that we were targeting Chinese and Asian cultures. That is not true. Cultures and traditions evolve. I am part of a new generation. I have spoken to many people. We believe that we must maintain our roots and evolve at the same time.

I therefore urge my colleagues to support this bill, which is very important for future generations.

An often-used example is ivory from endangered species. Ivory was harvested, just as shark fins are now.

I heard my colleagues say that we should focus on certain fins. A 2012 CTV report revealed that, out of 59 shark fins from which DNA samples were taken, 76% were from endangered species. So even though cutting shark fins is not allowed at the moment, the reality is that, in practice, it would be nearly impossible for inspectors to conduct DNA tests to figure out where every fin is coming from.

If my colleague had watched the film Sharkwater, he would also know that there is a massive black market. It is completely illegal. How do we implement the checks? Where do the fins come from? Do they come from a country that does not ban this type of shark-fin cutting, which is often done while the shark is alive? How can we truly know that the fins are not from the black market? That is the problem and that is what the bill is trying to address.

My Liberal colleague has said that he wants the bill to go to committee so that it can be studied and amendments can be made. We completely agree. Unlike another party, we are open to amendments and discussion. The goal is to fix a problem, namely shark finning. It creates an imbalance in nature and marine life. What is more, it is unnecessary.

My colleague mentioned tuna. If we apply this principle to shark fins, should we apply it to tuna as well? They are completely different situations. We are talking about the practice of killing a shark to take its fin and use it in a traditional dish. Unfortunately, this does little other than add to the cost. We have already seen what will happen if this practice continues. There is already an imbalance in nature, in the protection of marine life.

If my colleague wanted to protect fish, he would know that taking sharks out of the system creates an underwater imbalance. We are talking about protection and, as a scuba diver, it affects me greatly. Future generations need to be able to see sharks. In 2009, the International Union for Conservation of Nature stated that one-third of shark species were endangered because of this trade.

This is a real problem. Every year, 73 million sharks are killed. That is a stupefying number. If we do nothing, future generations will pay the price, and I am not talking only about the students who are already in school. There is a great public outcry. I am sure that my colleagues have received emails about this issue, and maybe even some tweets.

I think we have to listen to what the next generation is saying. They are saying, “Protect the sharks; keep them for the next generations”. If we are not doing anything now and we know the reason for bringing in shark fins is simply a question of prestige, at one point we have to react.

We know that the regulations in place are not doing the job right now. This is why we have to move forward.

There is a tremendous amount of support from the communities, from scuba divers and even from the Chinese community.

I would like to thank Veronica Kwan from La Maison Kam Fung in Brossard, in my riding, who is aware of the issue and supports the bill. I would also like to thank Canada's branch of Humane Society International, which has done a lot of work on this issue.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission
B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, again, I want to thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam for bringing this important issue to the attention of this House.

I think I can safely say that every member of this House, as do I, thinks the practice of shark finning is an awful thing. It involves the removal of the shark's fin while it is still alive and discarding the rest of the animal into the sea to die of suffocation or predation. We all agree that this is deplorable. Where we might disagree is on how to deal with the issue of shark finning, and I am not yet convinced that Bill C-380 is the way.

To remind hon. members, the bill proposes to amend two federal acts: the Fish Inspection Act, to prohibit the importation of shark fins; and the Fisheries Act, to prohibit the practice of shark finning in Canada. As my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, has spoken on the Fish Inspection Act, I will focus primarily on the changes proposed to the Fisheries Act.

Bill C-380 calls for amendments to the Fisheries Act to ban the practice of shark finning. However, the bill attempts to fix something that is not broken. Shark finning is banned in Canada and has been for almost two decades. In fact, the practice of finning has been banned in Canada since 1994, through licensing conditions under the fishery general regulations. That ban applies to Canadian fishery waters as well as licensed Canadian vessels fishing outside of our territorial waters.

Shark fishing in Canada is governed by sustainable management plans that include strong enforcement regimes to ensure that finning does not occur in Canadian fisheries, and these apply to all shark fisheries in Canadian waters. Indeed, only a few shark species are harvested in Canada, including spiny dogfish, porbeagle shark, shortfin mako shark and blue shark. These harvests are carefully managed based on the best scientific advice, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada is allowed to monitor shark populations in order to ensure their conservation. The shark fishery in Canada is highly regulated, with rigorous dockside monitoring. In fact, Canada maintains the first and only shark fishery in the world to be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

As mentioned, in 1994, due to rising concerns over the practice, the Canadian government prohibited shark finning. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans was given the ability to do this under section 7 of the Fisheries Act, which sets out the minister's authority to issue leases and licences for fisheries or fishing. Section 22 of the regulations provides the minister with specific authority to set out targeted licence conditions for the proper management and control of fisheries and the conservation and protection of fish. These provisions provide the minister with the authority to impose measures to eliminate shark finning as a licence condition.

Therefore, the regulations already allow the minister to impose, as a licence condition, measures to eliminate shark finning, which has been done. Today, all licence holders for Canadian shark fisheries and for fisheries where sharks are landed as bycatch are subject to licence conditions that prohibit them from engaging in shark finning. Why try to reinvent the wheel with Bill C-380?

The ban is enforced through a number of different internationally accepted methods across Canada. One approach requires that the number of fins correspond with the number of shark carcasses landed by shark fishing vessels. Under a second and more common approach, the number of fins on shark fishing vessels cannot exceed 5% of the overall weight of carcasses onboard when it lands. Both methods are intended to ensure that sharks are not being caught solely for their fins.

All licensed shark fishing vessels in Canada are subject to 100% monitoring to ensure this ratio is respected. Any violation of a licence condition is an offence under the Fisheries Act. Penalties for those found to be in contravention of their conditions of licence range from warnings, to prosecution, to requests for a court-imposed licence suspension and quota penalties, to loss of the privilege to renew the licence.

These measures were put in place to ensure Canada's shark fishery conforms to sustainable harvesting practices. It is a very practical approach and it has worked well. There has been only one minor breach in recent years; otherwise shark finning has not been an issue in Canadian fisheries. I would also add that Canada's approach is an internally accepted standard within regional fisheries management organizations.

While the bill is flawed, there are other ways to address the issue. For example, the proposed amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act would provide new tools for Canadian officials to seize shipments of fish products that have been caught illegally, such as shark fins. The proposed revisions to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act currently being reviewed by the Senate, as Bill S-13, would provide the legislative authority for Canada to prevent the import of fish products from illegal sources. Additionally, Canada has worked with other countries to put an end to this practice. The Government of Canada will continue to work with our international partners to ensure sustainable management of sharks, including the prohibition of the practice of finning.

Globally, Canada promotes the sustainable management and conservation of sharks through international organizations, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and regional fisheries management bodies, such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. There are also a number of international agreements, to which Canada is a party, which govern the conservation management and trade of certain at-risk shark species. For instance, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, usually called CITES, protects the great white shark, and basking and whale sharks. Imports of any of these shark species, or any of their parts, into Canada is only permissible if accompanied by an export permit from the country of origin that certifies the imported shark, or products derived from it, was caught in a scientifically proven sustainable fishery.

Furthermore, proposals have been submitted to have three more added, at the sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties convention to be held in March.

To summarize, Canada has taken action against the deplorable practice of illegal shark finning. This practice has been banned in Canada since 1994. Canada believes that working through regional fisheries management organizations to ensure strong management and enforcement practices globally is the most effective way to prevent unsustainable shark fishing practices, such as finning. A complete trade ban would penalize responsible legitimate fishing practices without addressing overfishing practices or improving global fisheries management. We will continue to support responsible, legal shark harvesters and crack down on those who break the rules.

Given the above, the government cannot support the private member's bill, Bill C-380.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate, for a short period of time, in this important debate.

Let me first add my words of congratulations to the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam for bringing in Bill C-380. The member has recognized there is a problem that exists in this country, and that in fact there is a problem that exists globally, with respect to this issue of the illegal trade in shark fins. He has said he is going to do something about it.

The member has been talking to Canadians, municipalities, members of this House and school children, and people support what he is talking about. We have heard members on all sides in this House say that they too agree the international trade in shark fins is deplorable. The practice of shark finning is deplorable. We have heard everyone agree with that.

However, the only one who has come forward with a plan to stop the problem is the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans had all kinds of excuses as to why the Conservatives are not going to support our attempt to ban the illegal trade in shark fins.

Let me highlight one point that the parliamentary secretary made, and that is the work the government is doing in international co-operation with other groups and organizations, be they regional or otherwise. One example is ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, which has held meetings recently to deal with issues of tuna conservation but also the subsequent impact of that fishery on the porbeagle shark.

In 2008, a joint ICCAT-ICES assessment for the northeast Atlantic population of porbeagle gave the following advice:

Given the state of the stock, no targeted fishing for porbeagle should be permitted and by-catch should be limited and landings of porbeagle should not be allowed.

The EU and that committee then went on to set limits on the total allowable catches. In 2012, at ICCAT meetings in Morocco, the only country that objected to a ban on the fishing of the porbeagle shark, which is facing extinction, was Canada. This is one shark that is not included on the list right now because of the work that Canada has been doing. To suggest we can solve the illegal trade in shark fins across the world and deal with the impact of conservation on sharks and the devastation on the marine ecosystem through existing agreements and existing relationships is simply fanciful.

My colleague has said, with the support of his colleagues in his caucus, and I believe I heard some support from the Liberal caucus, that we should bring this bill forward, pass it at second reading, move it to committee and have a good discussion. If we agree, and we have heard everyone say they do, and Canadians by the thousands are reporting that they want this practice stopped, then let us move this bill, which is the first attempt in this Parliament to begin to deal with the problem, into committee. Let us deal with it once and for all.

Let us make a commitment on behalf of Canadians and on behalf of our marine ecosystem, on behalf of those who recognize the fact that we need to step up and stop the illegal trade in shark fins. We need to stop this practice, so let us actually do something about it.

I understand that my time has come to a close. I want to urge all members of the House to vote in support of Bill C-380 and to do something about this deplorable practice of shark finning.

Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour will have four minutes remaining when this matter returns before the House.

Bill C-42. Third reading

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

Noon

Portage—Lisgar
Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-42, the enhancing RCMP accountability act.

With a history extending back to the very formation of our country, few national institutions are more symbolic of Canada than the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For many Canadians and people in other countries, the Mounties have come to represent certain values associated with Canada, the values of integrity, honesty, courage and determination. When those values are questioned or tarnished, it not only undermines the functioning of the RCMP but also affects the very heart of how others see us and how we see ourselves.

For that reason, the government has taken a key interest in modernizing the RCMP to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I remind everyone that the RCMP Act was last substantially amended in 1988, some 25 years ago. The world has changed very much in the last 25 years. Canadians are rightly demanding greater accountability from the RCMP, alongside heightened transparency. The cumbersome RCMP human resources management framework, which is so heavily reliant on paperwork, only makes the situation worse, and the well-publicized charges of sexual harassment are further evidence that far-reaching changes are required within the RCMP. Yes, the institution has made valiant efforts to correct its problems through its transformation agenda, but these internal changes can only go so far. What is needed now is an overhaul of the legislation affecting the RCMP's oversight and operations.

The RCMP and Canadians understand the need for legislative changes. It is very unfortunate that the NDP cannot understand this and, sadly, will not be supporting this important bill. It was made clear throughout the committee hearings that there are structural deficiencies that must be fixed within the RCMP. There are management challenges that must be faced. There are issues of trust and confidence that must be resolved. The government is determined to deal with these questions head on.

As members will recall, the government came to office on a platform of clear priorities. These included enhancing public safety and security and strengthening accountability and transparency. Bill C-42 contains many of the provisions included in legislation introduced in the last Parliament to address accountability issues within the RCMP.

I would now like to review the key components of the bill along with amendments that were introduced at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Canadians recognize the limitations of the current system of RCMP oversight. They want to know that public complaints against RCMP officers are handled expeditiously with thoroughness and impartiality. They want greater transparency so that justice is not only done but also seen to be done. The government has listened carefully and recognized the need to strengthen external oversight of the RCMP.

I do not want to suggest for one moment that this move denigrates the valuable work that has been accomplished by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, the CPC, since its inception in 1988. It has done excellent work. Yet we must also acknowledge the concerns raised in many quarters that the current legislation hampers the CPC from doing its job thoroughly. For that reason, Bill C-42 proposes replacing the CPC with an arm's-length body to be known as the civilian review and complaints commission for the RCMP.

Bill C-42 enhances the powers of the CPC. For example, the new entity would continue to focus on reviewing public complaints through enhanced access to information. It could also summon witnesses to testify at a hearing. In addition, the new body would be able to more broadly review RCMP activities in a particular area of interest and report on its findings. What is more, the new commission would also be empowered to share information or conduct joint complaints investigations with counterparts in other jurisdictions, and it would produce customized reports on public complaints for each jurisdiction holding contracts with the RCMP. These reports would analyze the number and nature of complaints in a given period. They would also identify any trends within the complaints. In this way, the new commission would deliver a tailor-made report that would meet the needs and expectations of contract jurisdictions. These new measures have become the standard tools for modern review bodies.

One of the most sensitive areas of RCMP conduct involves what is known as “serious incidents”. These are cases where RCMP contact with the Canadian public results in serious injury or death. In these high-profile events, it is vital that investigations of these cases is carried out independently, transparently and impartially. As I indicated earlier, it is important to the integrity of these investigations and the reputation of the RCMP that this impartiality be apparent from the very start of the investigation of these serious incidents. That is why the proposed bill would require the RCMP to refer all cases of serious incidents to a civilian investigative body within the relevant province. This body would ensure that the investigation is conducted in an impartial, transparent manner.

Of course, not every province has a civilian investigative body that can handle cases of this nature. If a provincial civilian agency does not exist, the case would then be referred to another police force. However, there are situations where there is no civilian body or other police agency available to conduct the investigation. For instance, at some remote RCMP locations the legislation would provide for this third possibility. In the absence of an external body, the RCMP would investigate the incident itself. Since this would justifiably raise all of the old concerns about independence, transparency and conflict of interest, the proposed legislation would go even further. If the RCMP or another police force were in charge of investigating these serious incidents, the jurisdiction in question or the new commission could appoint an independent observer to assess the impartiality of these investigations.

The government has worked hard to promote the accountability and transparency demanded by serious incidents. I know we have succeeded with the provisions that are outlined in Bill C-42.

Until now, I have concentrated my remarks on how the bill would enhance the accountability of the RCMP to all Canadians. However, accountability is also a concern within the RCMP itself. Over the past year, incidents related to alleged misconduct and sexual harassment in the RCMP have been well documented by the media. The current human resources management framework clearly does not allow for the commissioner to deal with these internal issues expeditiously. That is why a large portion of Bill C-42 is devoted to revamping and modernizing the RCMP discipline, grievance and human resources management practice. The chief concern with disciplinary action is the requirement to turn over serious cases to an adjudication board. The current policy embedded in existing legislation accomplishes and, in some cases, results in two things. First, it sets in motion a bureaucratic nightmare, a process full of delays that can stretch on for years and can create animosities that poison workplaces. Second, by taking away power from front-line managers, the latter lose the ability to correct behaviours and return the members to work quickly and put the incident behind them, or to demonstrate to others in the workplace that inappropriate behaviour is not acceptable. Currently, front-line managers do not have the ability to do this within the RCMP. It is time they have the ability to manage the people they work with in a modern, efficient way.

Bill C-42 would modify this process substantially. Most significantly, it would empower front-line managers within the RCMP. Under the bill's provisions, these managers could impose consequences or measures for most contraventions of the code of conduct. For example, managers could impose remedial training or corrective action or, in some cases, dock the officer's pay. Managers would only hand over the case to a conduct board if the review could lead to the firing of an officer.

The grievance process is just as troubling as the process for discipline, perhaps even more so, if that is possible. There seem to be as many processes as there are issues. A member who has a problem with his or her terms and conditions of employment goes one route. A member appealing a discharge goes yet another. Another member appealing a disciplinary sanction takes yet a third route. There are so many different administrators and processes for each one of these incidents that through it all, front-line managers are kept in the dark many times. It is time to shine the light of accountability on it and to find solutions.

Under Bill C-42, a single process would be instated for both grievances and appeals by members. The same set of administrators would deal with them. The same decision-makers would review the results. In this way the system would be much simpler, more consistent and operate with greater efficiency. Complementing this formal approach, front-line managers would be encouraged to deal with minor problems informally and at the first occurrence, as human resource managers across the country in other police forces are able to do before these occurrences become official grievances and before they undermine a positive workplace culture.

Our improvements to RCMP management would not be complete without also considering the important role of the commissioner. In short, the commissioner currently lacks authority for decisions that would be part of any senior manager's tool kit, including those provided to other police chiefs. To rectify these shortcomings the proposed legislation would give the commissioner new authorities. These include, for example, the power to demote and discharge members, to appoint commissioned officers and to investigate disputes involving workplace harassment.

I have highlighted the major provisions of Bill C-42 for consideration by the House. I would now like to take note and explain the changes that were adopted by the House of Commons at report stage. The committee accepted three substantive amendments. These were issues that were raised by witnesses throughout the hearings. We were pleased to further strengthen the legislation by these amendments.

As amended, the bill now supports the establishment of a strengthened reserve program, relying heavily on retired RCMP and other police officers. Currently, reservists are limited to how long they can serve consecutively. This change is important for a number of reasons, one being that it gives managers much needed staffing flexibility and helps ensure a healthy and strong workplace by reducing the amount of overtime worked by regular members. I am pleased that the committee agreed to enhance the RCMP's ability to benefit from the reserve program without interruptions in service time.

The second amendment provides clarity for the chairperson regarding immunity. The original provision provided immunity to every member, officer or employee performing the duties, powers and functions of the new commission. This was always intended to include the chairperson. As such, the committee saw fit to formally spell out in the legislation that the chairperson also has immunity. The final amendment clarifies that the RCMP commissioner cannot refuse to investigate a complaint initiated by the chairperson.

The proposed legislation, together with the three substantive amendments, would bring the laws governing the RCMP into the 21st century. It is puzzling that the NDP would work with us at committee to further strengthen the legislation and then sadly play these games at report stage and now not support this important piece of legislation. I sincerely call on the NDP to support the legislation and to work with our government to help stop harassment within the RCMP.

We heard repeatedly at committee stage that the proposed legislation would give the RCMP the flexibility it needs. At the same time, by addressing structural problems it would enhance accountability and transparency. In doing so it will bolster trust and confidence in the RCMP by both Canadians and Mounties.

While sadly it seems that the NDP will not put aside its ideological opposition to our common sense reforms, I can assure Canadians that our Conservative government will be supporting the bill at third reading.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would use the word “astonished”. The member knows we worked quite closely together on the bill. We took it quite seriously in committee but the government rejected each and every one of the amendments that we proposed to the bill. It is surprising to me how the member could be surprised at this point that we are not supporting the bill. Obviously both sides of the House accept the seriousness of the issues we are dealing with, but we were disappointed that the government rejected all the amendments that we proposed at committee.